The Hunt for a Big Tree

Hunting for big trees is, in my opinion, one of the very greatest adventures a person can embark on. It almost always involves a lot of bushwhacking through the dense and rugged forests found on BC’s coast (the fun part!) but thanks to recent improvements in satellite imagery, it’s sometimes possible to hone in on a specific tree even before you leave your house. When I first noticed the large crown and dark shadow looming above the forests near Cheewhat Lake in the screenshot below, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Was it a giant cedar? Something else? I didn’t know but It sure looked impressive! Months went by until finally I had a free day to make the 4 hour drive out there. A quick scope from the road with the drone revealed that it was not in fact a giant redcedar but a Sitka spruce! It was tall with a wide canopy and a decent size trunk. The next step was to push through the dense second-growth bordering the road to physically reach the base of the tree. By my best guess, it looked to be about 7 feet wide but was too difficult to measure since the back of the tree flared over a steep hillside. Though it didn’t turn out to be a record breaker, it was impressive none-the-less! And what it lead me to later that day (the giant cedars in the previous post) was well worth all the effort :)

Exploring Ancient Forests at Cheewhat Lake

An massive western redcedar tree measuring 14.6ft in diameter near Cheewhat Lake in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on southern Vancouver Island.

I spent recently spent two days exploring for giant trees in the Cheewhat Lake region on southern Vancouver Island. Here is where you can find the Cheewhat Giant, Canada’s largest tree and also now the world’s largest western redcedar (20ft in diameter!). I have a personal goal of finding the new champion tree and figured this would be a good place to start looking! I didn’t end up finding it on this trip but I did see a number of exceptional cedars, including the one pictured above. There were also numerous CMT’s (culturally modified trees), including a partially finished canoe which was overgrown with plants and trees - so cool! The bushwhacking was intense and the mosquitoes were relentless but the rewards were huge. My next trip to this remote and wild landscape can’t come soon enough!

Exploration: Cheewhat Lake & Carmanah Valley 2016

Over the May 14/15 weekend, three friends and I packed the van and made the dusty four-hour drive out to the Cheewhat Lake/Carmanah Valley region to pay visit to many of the country's largest trees. Around Cheewhat Lake grows Canada's largest tree, the Cheewhat Giant, along with the 3rd, 4th, and probably more of the largest western redcedars known. Thankfully, these are protected within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. I had never visited the giant cedar at the north end of Cheewhat Lake before. It was bit of mission to get there as well as the road along Doobah Lake was quite grown in and the trailhead was nearly invisible but in the end we found it and boy was it worth it!! Such an immense tree!! The GPS coordinates for Canada's 3rd largest redcedar at the north end of Cheewhat Lake are: 48.70070, -124.75124 The trailhead is: 48.70175, -124.75104. The trail begins in second-growth before entering incredible old-growth that includes some unique culturally modified trees and ends at the lake. Near the Cheewhat Giant (GPS: 48.69395, -124.74459) we also found the remains of a half finished canoe in the forest. This forest, and the many giants it harbours, must be my favourite place on Vancouver Island.

The trip also included a visit to the breathtaking Sitka spruce groves found in the Carmanah Valley. Such a timeless place. Not far from the parking lot we also spotted an new giant cedar that was almost 40ft around! Sometimes the big trees are hiding in plain sight just waiting for people to find them. Felt great to get some bushwhacking in as well and rekindle the drive to start looking for new record size trees that may still reside in the dense rainforest landscapes of Vancouver Island! Now that the BC Big Tree Registry is online, it's also easier than ever to nominate new discoveries. See: http://bcbigtree.ca/

I'm forever grateful for the legacy left by the late Randy Stoltmann and amazed by the many big tree discoveries he made. Tragically, he passed away in an avalanche in the early 90's at age 31 - the same age as me. I can't help but wonder what it would it would be like if he were alive today. What questions one might ask him. What new discoveries he might have made in the last 20 years. He left behind such beautiful tales of explorations and is and true inspiration to all lovers of wilderness. We can still visit and enjoy the Carmanah Valley today in large part because of him, and for that and more I extend my greatest thanks.

Exploration: Measuring Near Record-Sized Trees in the Central Walbran Valley

On a recent trip to the endangered Central Walbran Valley on southern Vancouver Island, my colleague Ken Wu and I worked to obtain accurate measurements a colossal western redcedar tree known as the Tolkien Giant (GPS: 48.64569, -124.601246). After some scrambling through the thick underbrush, we managed to wrap it with the long tape. Preliminary measurements put the ancient tree at 14.4 metres (47 feet) in circumference or 4.6 meters (15 feet) in diameter, and about 42 meters (138 feet) in height. This makes it the 9th widest western redcedar in BC, according to the BC Big Tree Registry: http://bit.ly/1Iuf9Tv It's often hard to grasp the sheer size of these giants, and even harder that many are still at risk of being cut down. The Tolkien Giant currently stands in a tenuous forest reserve known as an Old-Growth Management Area and is thankfully protected for now however, just a couple hundred meters away lies 1 of 8 cutblocks proposed by logging company Teal-Jones. Here we came across the foreboding orange flagging tape marked "Falling Boundary", as well as more giant trees. We nicknamed one incredible specimen the Karst Giant due to the band of limestone that is prevalent in this area. The Karst Giant has been tentatively measured at 12.1 meters (40 feet) in circumference or 3.9 meters (13 feet) in diameter. Although it doesn't make the top 10, it's still an exceptional tree (photo below).

At almost 500 hectares in size, the Central Walbran Valley is home to one of the largest tracts of contiguous old-growth forest found outside of parks on southern Vancouver Island, a region which has lost 96% of its valley bottom old-growth due to logging. It's an ecological and recreational jewel that must be protected by the BC government from the current logging proposals.

The dense and highly productive ancient forests found here also provide some of the most incredible bushwhacking and exploration opportunities. One truly feels like they've stepped back in time to a prehistoric-like wilderness visited by few to none on Earth. You never quite know what unique tree, karst feature, or creature might by lurking around the next corner.